6 Generations of Heritage
When visiting friends I often spot a Gadsby basket upon a shelf waiting for its next adventure. Unlike many of the customers we supply ours isn’t a household name, but our hampers sneak into many places. I’m always pleased to see one.
Our family has long links with willow, weaving and commerce. The business family has now grown much larger, but that past is still a big part of who we are. I hope this insight helps show how we have evolved into the global business you will find today.
Will Gadsby (being carried by Paul Gadsby).
In 1988 W Gadsby & Son featured in a documentary, 'Willow', that explored the company history and changing nature of rural life in Somerset.
Clips of this footage, many featuring Stanley Gadsby (1926-2003) are shown below with photography from the company archive.
The story began at 99 Gurney Road, Stratford, London in 1864. This marked the establishment of a retail shop with William Gadsby, the founder, manufacturing and selling various wicker products.
In 19th century Britain, before the advent of plastics, wicker was a widely used material. The business steadily grew with William's son Robert later taking over the store and workshop.
World War Two
After 70 years the business, already in its third generation, was thriving with Robert's son William now in charge.
The advent of war threatened everything. Listen as Stanley, William's son and a young boy at the time, summarises the events that led to a permanent move from London to Somerset.
The Post-War Years
After completing the move the business made airborne panniers for the War effort, large baskets that were dropped by aircraft containing supplies for troops. These Ministry of Supply contracts continued in the post-War years, and ensured the continued health of the business.
Stanley, now entering his 20s, can be seen in the top left with his father, William, bottom right.
At the centenary celebration guests ate ‘thick soup’ and duck with orange. A newspaper report noted that ‘the outlook for the future was bright, despite the trade often being seen as a dying industry’.
By now both Stanley and William were involved in the day-to-day management of the business, which was still focused on manufacturing and retail sales.
The Somerset Levels
While undeniably beautiful, operating a business in the heart of the Somerset Levels did bring challenges. With much of the area sitting below sea level the land was often affected by winter flooding.
The 1967 flood was the worst for decades, leaving the business underwater for nearly two months.
The Arrival of the M5
The location was historically busy, alongside the traditional summer holiday route to Devon and Cornwall. The completion of the M5 removed this crucial business, forcing a change in direction.
The company began a shift away from retail sales, restructuring to specalise in wholesale supply of basketware.
A Changing Marketplace
With evolving market trends and customer pricing pressures the business continued to adapt. Stanley's son Paul ventured first to Eastern Europe and then the Far East to forge new supply chains and partnerships.
The company found significant first-mover advantage from this change and grew throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Stanley explains here that while imported, these products are still woven in the same skilled way.
By the end of the 1990s the business, led by Paul, had outgrown its old site. Plans were put in place for relocation to a new purpose-built HQ near junction 24 of the M5.
This new home, with improved transport links, far greater storage capacity and larger offices helped facilitate further rapid growth over the next decade, with significant investment in technology helping grow both online presence and sales.
150 Years - Gadsby China
Over time the business has fully evolved from a manufacturer into a sourcing and imports specialist. By 2014, our 150th anniversary, more than half of staff were in logistics or product sourcing roles. This reflects the changing needs of our client base.
The natural next step was the opening of our first overseas office in Shenzhen, China. This network has since expanded with further offices in Shanghai and Linyi. Our China team directly oversee new product sourcing, factory management and QC.
More than 20 years into a third century our story still evolves. Paul has been joined by Will and together they lead our global team.
The product range has expanded to include many more materials but willow remains integral, with Gadsby staff helping share their knowledge, skills and experience with our producers worldwide.
Hear Stanley's hopes for the future in this final clip from 1988. Our business family is now much larger, but his aspirations are reflective of the values and qualities you will find today.